Yogalates: A Blend of Exercises

Last Editorial Review: 1/31/2005

Any way you spell it, yoga and Pilates benefit body and soul

By Jeanie Lerche Davis
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario, MD

Yogalates. Yogilates. Yoga lattes? Don't let the name confuse you. There's a new trend out there, and it's not on the Starbucks menu.

However you spell it, yoga and Pilates are now joined at the hip. The trend is edging its way into health clubs and studios across America.

Yogilates was created in 1997 by certified Pilates instructor and personal trainer Jonathan Urla. This year, Louise Solomon published her own version, called Yogalates.

Everyone has an opinion about this new trend, pro or con. Besides the books, there are videotapes, DVDs, and classes cropping up. To figure out what's up, WebMD caught up with several fitness experts.

Ahead of the Curve

Yoga is an eastern Indian tradition that focuses on strength, flexibility, and spirituality. Pilates was created by German-born Joseph Pilates nearly a century ago. Pilates focuses on building strength in the deep muscles of the abdominal region, the body's core.

Both practices involve attaining specific postures. Both emphasize correct breathing. Both emphasize meditative mindfulness.

Despite the hybrid name, Yogalates "is not gimmicky -- it's built on very tried and true, historically proven forms of exercise," explains Cherryl Leone, a certified yoga instructor at Gentle Strength Yoga in Denver.

Like many who teach it, Leone has developed her own blend of yoga and Pilates. It's become so popular, she says she may transform a couple of yoga classes to Yogalates. "I've had such positive, positive feedback on Yogalates," she tells WebMD.

"There's so much synergy between the two," Leone explains. "The philosophies of both make blending the two very natural. You're not mindlessly on a treadmill or exercise machine. The mind is very focused on the body, on breathing techniques. When I teach Yogalates, I want students to feel their entire body was exercised in an integrated way."

When It's Not Yoga, You Know It

So what exactly happens in a yoga-Pilates class?

In Yogilates, Urla outlines no less than 40 poses -- including back lifts, sternum lifts, leg lifts, leg circles, plus such yoga standards such as Downward-Facing Dog, Sun Salutation, The Warrior, and Meditation Pose -- that can be used in a beginner's class. Of course, no one class will cover them all, he says.

Urla's language emphasizes the spiritual: Make the process of learning Yogilates your goal, he writes. "Learn to be present in your thinking and to appreciate the simple fact that you are breathing, moving, and enjoying the real beauty of your practice."

"There's a beautiful marriage of flow, from a yoga move to a Pilates move."

"I use a very classical approach -- floor work, stretching for 20 minutes before going into the Sun Salutation series," Urla tells WebMD. "At first, one might notice more yoga because we do pause in the poses, we hold some stretches. I'm very much into fundamentals, into awareness of alignment. But when we begin the very intensive abdominals -- you may not know it's Pilates, but you'll know it's definitely not yoga."

A Few Opinions

"There's a beautiful marriage of flow, from a yoga move to a Pilates move," says Meg Jordan, PhD, RN, a spokeswoman for the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America. "Blending the two is time-efficient. You can address all the major muscle groups."

As a fitness instructor, Jordan found that people who wanted to improve muscle tone, get a slimmer physique, or tone specific body areas weren't satisfied with yoga. "Why don't I have this five pounds off yet?" -- that's what she heard.

She, too, saw the possibilities of blending the best of yoga and Pilates, as she describes in her 1999 book, The Fitness Instinct. However, Jordan went a step further -- topping off her workouts with calisthenics, to fully challenge the muscles.

"The aging baby boomer population is not interested in physically exhausting exercise," Jordan says. "You can get maximum results in terms of good ab and back strength from this blend. It has numerous benefits for injury prevention, back care, and strong abs."

The Purist's Viewpoint

Not everyone approves of this hybrid approach. "I'm not a fan of Yogalates," says Linda Sparrowe, MA, yoga director of Western Athletic Clubs in the San Francisco Bay Area and author of Yoga for Healthy Bones, which will be published next spring.

"I feel it waters down both practices into something that they aren't," Sparrowe tells WebMD. "Yogalates works in health clubs because people there are often not familiar with either one. So it's a nice introduction. But yoga is a deeper practice, a very physical practice. It taps into your emotional body and your mind."

She suggests taking separate classes in each practice: "Nothing changes my body more than the combination of Pilates and yoga classes. Each one gives me something different. So I'm not a fan of blending. Blending tends to denigrate the practice, whether it's yoga or Pilates."

Urla's answer: "The point is, does it work? For most people, who are not young and flexible, Yogilates works. This is a system that is less intimidating, more accessible, than either yoga or Pilates alone."

Just make sure your instructor is a good one -- either trained through the Pilates Method Alliance or the Yoga Teachers Alliance (each group has a web site), Urla suggests.

Published Sept. 25, 2003.

SOURCES: Jonathon Urla, author, Yogilates. Cherryl Leone, instructor, Gentle Strength Yoga, Denver. Meg Jordan, PhD, RN, spokeswoman, Aerobics and Fitness Association of America. Linda Sparrowe, MA, yoga director, Western Athletic Clubs, San Francisco Bay Area.

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